21 (December 2009)
The Hong Kong Society for the Age (SAGE) established in 1977 is one of the well-known Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) in responding to the rapid growing elderly population and the welfare needs of the senior in Hong Kong. Its services include Care and Attention Home, Elderly Hostels, Elderly Centres, Day Care Centres, Home Care Service. etc. The mission of SAGE is to ensure the elderly to have dignity and reasonable comfort in their old age. In 2008, SAGE aims to provide distinctive services to the elderly, i.e. elderly participation and empowerment (Homepage of Sage: http://www.sage.org.hk/eng/ideal.htm). This paper focuses how Sage as an elderly organization in Hong Kong empower older persons through active participation.
In the past, the term “client” was widely used to describe those who approached SAGE for service or assistance. It was later changed to “Service User” or “Service Recipient”, a more appropriate term to describe the relationship as SAGE moves more towards the philosophy of a customer-oriented approach. However, the usage of this term implied a power relationship between the service providers, meaning those who “give”, and the service recipients, meaning those who “receive”. Therefore, the situation has been changed in order to emphasize “partnership” instead – a term that is devoid of status hierarchy with a fair chance of participation for both parties, which could result in a win-win situation. It is anticipated that there will be an even more progressive approach to include service users as “decision-makers”, so that they can have more say in deciding the type and mode of service provision, as well as in allocating resources. These changes not only denote the significance of enhancing the customers’ dual roles of being “partners” and “decision-makers” in the process of service provision, but also emphasis the importance of encouraging their participation through empowerment.
With rapid development in information and technology, distinguish to before, the participations of the Hong Kong elderly are no longer conservative and invisible nowadays, this development promotes and enhances the active role and self-awareness in society among the elderly. Throughout the advocacy, guidance, and support of many community services in SAGE, it helps to echo the active involvement of the elders in the community. This involvement leads the elders becoming more aware of their collective strength and the power of voicing their concerns about social issues that directly or indirectly affect their own life and well-being. From SAGE experience, Elders’ involvement can be seen from the active roles they play in the organization and operation of different committees, including “Service Users’ Councils”, “Canteen Service Management Committees”, elder learning platform, etc., all these participation definitely enhance the well-being of the elders.
However, elderly participation is still relatively low as regards to the whole society, and there exists considerable room for improvements at the policy-making and decision level. For example, at present, most elders’ involvements are mainly through invitations. Their opinions are generally sought on specific issues such as elderly education and welfare. From time to time, maybe, elderly representatives from different sectors of the community are invited to participate in focus group discussions initiated by the Elderly Commission of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, an official agency that is responsible for advocacy and policy decision-making concerning elderly welfare. Sometimes the elders themselves run some self-organized groups at local level, such as “The Hong Kong Association of Senior Citizens”, which helps play their active roles in sensitizing the Government and the community towards elderly-related issues. With these examples, how could we identify the benefits of the elderly participation? How do the elderly being empowered? A theoretical framework of participation and empowerment with a real experience in SAGE is going to explain in the next part.
Lam, K. L., & Lee, S. L. T. (2009). Elderly participation and empowerment: Experiences of SAGE (APIAS Monograph Paper Series No.21). Retrieved from Lingnan University website: http://commons.ln.edu.hk/apiasmp/21